The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory

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9780393046885: The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory

Physicists and mathematicians throughout the world are working on one of the most ambitious theories ever proposed: superstring theory. String theory, as it is often called, is the key to the Unified Field Theory that eluded Einstein for more than 30 years. Finally, the century-old antagonism between the large and the small - General Relativity and Quantum Theory - is resolved. String theory proclaims that all of the wondrous happenings in the universe, from the frantic dancing of of subatomic quarks to the swirling of galaxies, are reflections of one grand physical principle and manifestations of one single entity: microscopically tiny vibrating loops of energy, a billionth of a billionth the size of an atom. In this work, Brian Greene relates the scientific story and the human struggle behind 20th-century physics' search for a theory of everything. Through the use of metaphor and analogy, this work makes some of the most sophisticated concepts accessible, aiming to bring the reader closer to an understanding of how the universe works.

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Review:

There is an ill-concealed skeleton in the closet of physics: "As they are currently formulated, general relativity and quantum mechanics cannot both be right." Each is exceedingly accurate in its field: general relativity explains the behavior of the universe at large scales, while quantum mechanics describes the behavior of subatomic particles. Yet the theories collide horribly under extreme conditions such as black holes or times close to the big bang. Brian Greene, a specialist in quantum field theory, believes that the two pillars of physics can be reconciled in superstring theory, a theory of everything.

Superstring theory has been called "a part of 21st-century physics that fell by chance into the 20th century." In other words, it isn't all worked out yet. Despite the uncertainties--"string theorists work to find approximate solutions to approximate equations"--Greene gives a tour of string theory solid enough to satisfy the scientifically literate.

Though Ed Witten of the Institute for Advanced Study is in many ways the human hero of The Elegant Universe, it is not a human-side-of-physics story. Greene's focus throughout is the science, and he gives the nonspecialist at least an illusion of understanding--or the sense of knowing what it is that you don't know. And that is traditionally the first step on the road to knowledge. --Mary Ellen Curtin

From the Inside Flap:

"[Greene] develops one fresh new insight after another...In the great tradition of physicists writing for the masses, The Elegant Universe sets a standard that will be hard to beat." --George Johnson, The New York Times Book Review

In a rare blend of scientific insight and writing as elegant as the theories it explains, Brian Greene, one of the world's leading string theorists, peels away the layers of mystery surrounding string theory to reveal a universe that consists of 11 dimensions where the fabric of space tears and repairs itself, and all matter-from the smallest quarks to the most gargantuan supernovas-is generated by the vibrations of microscopically tiny loops of energy.

Green uses everything from an amusement park ride to ants on a garden hose to illustrate the beautiful yet bizarre realities that modern physics is unveiling.    Dazzling in its brilliance, unprecedented in its ability to both illuminate and entertain, The Elegant Universe is a tour de force of science writing-a delightful, lucid voyage through modern physics that brings us closer than ever to understanding how the universe works.

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Greene, Brian
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